tv Freedom of Information Act 50th Anniversary CSPAN October 28, 2016 9:00pm-9:46pm EDT
history tv on cspan 3. saturday morning at 9:00 eastern. >> the british empire and it's common wealth lasts for a thousand years. >> we're live for the 33rd international churchill conference in washington d.c. focussing on the british prime minister's contemporaries. british historian authors of masters and commanders how four titans won the war in the west. 1941 to 1945. later on saturday at 7:00, state senator jose menendez and phil collins talk about the alamo at the 2016 texas tribute festival in austin. >> the medical ris of my impression at that time were that this group of people were
going and knew they were going to die but they went. they were there. but they kind of -- there was something very noble and very, you know, romantic. that is one of the thicks i think would be good in this day and age. we put it into context. >> then sunday evening at 6:00 on american artifacts. >> you also notice he's not wearing a weapon. he would also lead attacks carrying nothing but that riding crop that you see in his left hand and the men looked at t this and realized, hey, if the colonel can make it, well, i can take it too. >> we visit the mcarthur memorial to learn about the early life of douglas mcarthur. and in the pacific during world war ii. >> the great leaders also service conscious in chief with
the highest level of integrity. with the moral compass locked on true north so that we can always count on them to do the right thing when times get tough or when no one is looking. >> he explains his ten commandments for presidential leadership. what they are and points higher vieds examples of presidents that excelled at each one. our complete american history tv schedule. go to cspan.org. >> each week american history tv's american artifacts visits museums archives and historic places. a visit to the national security at george washington university to learn about the freedom of information act. >> lyndon johnson and dragged kicking and screaming into signing the bill because the bill said any person not just a citizen. by rewest could get out of their
government. any records the government held as long as they weren't damaging national security or law enforcement investigation or personal privacy basically. >> every one of the federal agencies is going to be rummaging through our files. we can't do that. helped the newspaper editors especially. to marshall their arguments about how really in favor of government. one of the fascinating things we found is that he had actually written a really nice signing statement for president johnson. he has this ringing language. this legislation springs from our most essential principles, democracy works best when people know what their government is doing. and shouldn't be able to pull curtains of secrecy.
we now know that on the telephone johnson called him and said cut that out. come on. and he has to x through this ringing declaration about freedom of information and puts in there and we have the final version, final version just says yes this legislation springs from one of our most essential principles democracy works best when the people have all the information that the security of the nation permits them to have. that's a big difference. it's really interesting. it shows some of that real reluctance. and dots an i with another pen and hands it back to them and
hands that pen back. he was stage master of ceremonies. not only was there no signing ceremony for the freedom of reformation act. it doesn't only appear on his daily sked kwul. all there are are these repeated phone calls from bill. he had been wired by the american society of news editors. newspaper editors back then. now they're news editors. they have written them on july 2nd. and it might be not signed by inadverse answer the in the lbj library. we found the telegram response and writes back not our style. and the final signing statement is a story from july 4th, 1966.
the middle 3 paragraphs are not about open government. they're about secrecy. this one is about military secrets. this one is about privacy and confidentiality and deliberations. and constitutions commander and chief and i do not share this concern and i don't want to do that. and the middle hole of the section of the final segment is about with holding information but the impact of over 50 years has been amazing. the united states is the third country in the world to have the freedom of information act after sweden and finland. some of the states like wisconsin have already done their own freedom of information acts and after the federal government passed theirs many other states joined in. take the state of michigan for example. we know today that the water
crisis, the lead poisoning, thousands of kids in flint michigan because state officials this is from their own e-mails. that released through the state freedom of information act. their e-mails, we write to each other. and pipes and it will cost too much when the new water plant goes online and they blame the community groups all hissing and riling people up and it's an old pipe and the city pipes and transmission pipes. we only do that because of the freedom of information request by reporters by a virginia tech professor by the investigator of the michigan aclu and did his own test to show it wasn't the pipes in the house. once these e-mails came out, within five days the lead poison
started to drop. it wasn't the only silver bullet. there were a series of others. levels in kids blood and the epa scientist tested the pipes but the freedom of information act is what held people accountable and that's 50 years later making a difference, saving kids from lead poisoning. you can show a personal interest, economic interest, family interest in getting ahold of say a courthouse record you can get that but only through a judicial proceeding and gradually in the 1800s in this country the real estate title insurance companies brought action after action at the state court level saying now wait a
second courthouse records we pay for them. they're taxpayer records. they should be open. these guys wanted to make a issue out of it but they're the people that were the cutting edge. not journalists. and if you have a need to know you might get access. you might be able to get it. then in the 1930s with federal agencies we had the first federal register in the mid 1930s and national archives and world war ii when your government turned into a permanent big national security state with standing army and huge expenditures on government it was a push back. it is a neat idea.
it basically says if the government is going to do something that effects you or your business or your family, you have a right to know in advance and ability to come meant and was supposed to open up government record. and he tried to get information out of the eisenhower administration and they stone walled him and they need a particular statute that says we have a right to know some presumption of disclosure unless the government can show the release of the document.
there was a lot of push back. then into the 1930s a democratic president and you have a number of republican members of congress that got interested in this idea as a way to reign in executive power. it is a pretty good explanation as why the bill became a real majority bill. it's involved in so many different pieces of our life and our commercial life and personal lives, social security, so forth, we need the right to get those records out of agencies.
so rumsfeld signed up and moss was ready. all the federal agencies said this is a bad idea. it's really bad idea but the news editors mounted a major editorial campaign and turned it into well is johnson going to be secretive or is he going to stand for open government and they converted him. very influential. a press secretary to johnson but almost like the son johnson never had and he bail convinced and convinced his boss. you veto this thing, you let it go down, every newspaper in the country is going to editorialize against you and the first batch of information is the news clips. now it's done digitally and president obama gets it on an ipad but in those days it was a stack of xerox copies so lbj
with no ceremony unwillingly. and then agencies figured out every kind of way to throw up obstacles so for example in the early law there were these national security restriction that you saw in lbj's final signing statement so what agencies would do if there is a body of you be classified stuff they'd stick a classified document into the file called the contamination technique. oh no that file is classified
now. was trying to get information about the win patterns in the pacific were such that our nuclear tests would send wind that could touch part of the islands. she represents hawaii and she wanted the data and the government said you can't have them. she said i'm a member of congress. >> no, you can't have them. then the freedom of information act. they denied her. went all the way to the supreme court. the supreme court said well the law doesn't specifically say that the court could overrule an agency and they have to accept the agency claims. but she lost. that was in 1973. that lead to a whole movement,
73, 74, happened right in the moment of watergate and vietnam war scandals and beginning of the cia scandals and impeachment of president nixon and his resignation so you had the congress accept freedom of information amendments and real leaders on this were senator teddy kennedy and these amendments were meant to strengthen that 1966 bill and they need to do the review and just what's on the record and there were restrictions on the ways that people like the fbi could claim oh this will impinge on the investigation. this has got to be under law enforcement. it built even on national security this extra check and balance of the courts which had not really been there the first time around. now what's amazing is under the freedom of information act one
of teddy kennedys staff people got his file years later of his negotiations with the fbi about the bill because they were writing amendments to try to make it work and then the file was a memo. the fbi legislative liason written to her peers. the white house called us and told us to stop negotiating with teddy kennedy's staff because they want this bill to be as bad as possible so we can sustain a veto. in other words no more amendments to make compromises with the fbi's interest and the interest of openness. leave it as bad as possible. that's the bill that passed congress. president ford vetoed it. his heef of staff was a guy that co-sponsored the 1966 bill. it's hard to figure out exactly we have gotten library documents and he wanted to sign it. his white house council wanted him to sign it but all the agencies weighed in.
a lawyer calls the cia and says the president might sign this you need to weigh in over there. this will be bad for you guys so we can show the cia lobbying and the justice department is lobbying. inside the administration the chief of staff was a guy named rumsfeld and a guy named cheney and it's hard to see exactly their role but we have note of two meetings they held with president ford in the ten days before he vetoed the bill and the meetings were all about the leaks. you and shut it down. and even though he comes to the office. he vows and we're going to have an open administration and incited the press in to see him toast english muffins and somewhere really open. and then they veto the bill and
unfortunately for him the congress then overroad those vetoes. and that's the bill that is the core of what we have today. it's why we can win. and the final analysis of the last of the documents the courts will always rule in the governments favor. and in between the beginning of it and the end, we get the documents out, that's the core of it. and the government to respond and hardly ever meets that deadline but if you have patience and persistence, it took us 17 years to get the cia's family jewels appeals, threatening litigation, negotiating, finally getting that out. persistence. getting human beings on the inside. most people work for the government were public servants. they're in there to try to do the right thing. if you can get one of those
folks on the phone talk about the request. you can often get responsiveness. we were in the mid 1980s when government secrecy was going through the roof on national security brands and a lot of journalists and understood that they really didn't stand up to scrutiny. and came out of the cia they all write their own memoirs. most of what i saw, that could be released. within a short period of time so these skrournlists ajournalistso house the documents when they came in. there wasn't the internet so that you can just sit in with
all the brown boxes around. now we post them on the web and publish them for information. we try to publish and a lot of what the government holds is administrative and we're rying to get at the policy documents where a decision could have gone a long way or another and we can get at the history or policy and that is one of my favorites to show you this and the whole series of meetings with foreign leaders and this one happened to be with the turkish foreign minister in 1975. it's fascinating because the turks say you need to ship us some weapons down here from nato stores so we could kill them over there and he says that's illegal and guess who jumps in? before the freedom of information act i used to say at
meetings, the illegal we do immediately and the unconstitutional takes a little bit longer. it was a joke but he goes on to say since the freedom of information act i'm afraid. the freedom of information act means these guys can go do bad things in secret covered by national security classification but we're going to find that. and awe just had a conviction just this past week. and chilean army officer that killed the folk singer in the middle of the coup.
tracked down by other victims of his whole death squad. there were documents showing yes he was commander of this particular unit at this particular stadium. they had some eyewitness testimony and he was just convicted of it the other day. it was worth it. and one of the stories nowadays in the united states was opioid epidemic. and there was a famous case where the radio talk show host was caught sending the secretary out to get his oxycontin
prescription. he had to go through rehab. the american medical association and doctors societies didn't want it out. no so they had to go through the act and say no the public interest value in this is so strong you can't show us unidentifiable harm and they gave it to us and put in a big data base and all of a sudden every state licensing agency for doctors started coming within the data base to check.
wait a second do i need to reign it back in? the licensers can go after the doctors that and change the pricing patterns and reimbursement patterns to put limits on what have become a real epidemic. i love this story because just in the last year found some really strange search terms. in their data base where they wrote a big story about it. the number one search people are doing now in our data base doesn't seem to be coming from license servers it seems to be coming from folks that want to know quote doctors do anything. and addicts are on board now. they face a choice. do we take down this data because it's helping people find a doctor that will give them anything? no actually we need to do more attention.
keep the data up and every place where we are referring to any of the opioid connected to the centers for disease control damage sheets the side effects and what can happen to you and the warnings about it and use the data to keep doing what we started which is bring down the rate of opioid abuse and effects hundreds of thousands of people and challenging the power of a small group of physicians in this country prescribing with little more than professional eth thicks and this puts another check and balance on that power. so other unknown stories just to give you a sense of the change even in the debate about climate change is that freedom of information act we have been filing freedom of information requests to try to look at all the negotiations over the last 30 or 40 years on climate change. just what were the u.s.
positions, what were the foreign positions and what interests were served and who won the arguments and we found that ronald reagan was the hero in 1987 and the issue was the montreal protocol which is going to ban the whole class of carbons that used to be the engines for the bottles. any bottle that had those in it and they were known to be destroying the ozone layer. and skin cancer and that kind of thing. to protect the cliemate pack then. but reagan overruled the job
killing objections and ordered the signing negotiating the signing to save the ozone layer. it's interesting. it spreads the -- we get after some of the -- our specialty is the classified documents. and you see a declassified document appear on late night television. there's usually motte that much that's funny. there you have steven colbert earlier this year because right back in 2002 when rumsfeld and others in the george w. bush administration about mushroom clouds and hussein and the dangers. rumsfeld is writing to the chairman of the joint chiefs of
staff saying please take a look at this material as to what we don't know about weapons of mass destruction. it is big. real contrast that public pr face versus inside what we don't know. that is really important. for the public to know that the disaster in iraq. >> the president had available to him intelligence from all level of the government. it was all shared and supplied and it's never certain. if it were a fact it wouldn't be called intelligence. >> wow. i think you answered my
question. >> this is freedom of information. we got this one. it's called a snow flake. rumsfeld was famous when he was secretary of defense. and and chiefs of staff. people who work for rumsfeld call these snow flakes and some days there will be a blizzard of them coming down and people never knew how much do you spend the next day answering this? sometimes he did and rumsfeld was glad to hear it. sometimes it just melted and wasn't heard from again. in this case it melted away because they decided to invade iraq and nobody was interested and looking at what we don't know. turned out what we don't know was the absence of evidence was the evidence of absence. the whole project looking just at the iraq war decisions. how did they get made?
were there any on the inside? how do they control the information flow. who actually decided? we knew from the memoirs and we never had a debate. there was no debate about invading iraq. it was understood that the president continued to invade and there was never a formal discussion about it so we went back and looked at the key dates from september 2002 and the main briefing was in august 2002 so they were really interested in that period in particular. so in this case we knew a particular type of document. we knew that copies of it were in the executive secretaries office in the department of defense. we would like any snow flakes in august and september of 2002 and
then you can come up with pretty good answers and that helps us track back and in marchand let's ask for it. and whsenate intelligence committee and the case in new york. and the suspected outcome of terrorists and the first time around in court even with the federal judge ordering the government to review the documents and that version of the document was this one.
this is a page out of the inspector general's own investigation of the torture program and all you have is the headline enhanced interrogation techniques at the top and then down at the bottom three words let loose on page 15 of the water board technique. this is all the government would release of this page as of 2008. well, 2009 you have a new president that came in faced with this lawsuit and they have to make a series of policy decisions. and wait a second. we're against torture and we're going to end this program. president obama said on the campaign trail he would end it with an exec ryu tif order. the obama administration releases this is the same page of the same inspector general's report listing all the enhanced interrogation techniques. sleep deprivation for days and days at a time forcing people to
stay in boxes. and they slapped to show domination by the interrogator. all of these things under the international conventions were torture and they were the approved list of both enhanced interrogation techniques. it's one of those great euphemisms that the government often comes up with that actually just means torture. now we know. the aclu kind of lost their lawsuit the first time around but kept at it and under the freedom of information act under a new administration it said wait a second we ended this program. we don't do this anymore we prohibited these techniques. you can't classify them anymore. let's release them and there they are are. makes it more likely that we won't resume. they're still sitting there in some dark bottom drawer at the
cia for another terrorist attack, another threat since a threat rises you go back down to that dark well and say oh maybe we can pull these out but now we know a lot more about it. this is one of the great scientific successes of our time. the central intelligence -- you can see the redactions here. the black is too visual. white is more hike swiss cheese here. this is a memorandum on views of trained cats for use. we now know a lot about this because the cia invested tens, hundreds of thousands of dollars on testing whether you could wire up cats surgically and plant microphones to use them as surveillance instruments. so if you had a sovietdy moe mat sitting across the street from the white house send a cat over there to curl around his legs and pick up whatever he is saying to whatever agent he is
running, right? so it was a remarkable scientific achievement but would not lend itself in a practical sense to our highly specialized needs. this is bureaucratic language and wires transmission work and maybe we can train them but the environmental insecurity in using this technique, no kidding. what if the cat gets distracted by amos or a piano john. at least through the freedom of information act -- they didn't
want to release it. this is sources and methods and this is damaging to national security so we only got it on appeal but it made some news around the world. goes to the point we often run into, the claim is its classified on national security grounds. the real reason it's withheld is emotio embarrassment. our law today has created a kind of extraordinary flow of documents. you can see from all of these kind of examples that i have shown you but in 1966 we were one of the few laws in the world, us, sweden and finland really but then after the fall of the berlin wall every one wanted the freedom of information law. we had them sitting in the national security archives saying how do you do this and how do you have the marble security. how do we get that stuff? we have to get the communist party files released. we helped folks all around the
world write new freedom of information laws and now we're about up to 109 or 110 countries with freedom of information laws of one kind or another. some of them aren't worth the paper they're written on. check this box so we can be part of the international community. some of them are much better than our law because a good example -- think about mexico. we think about a broken judicial system. police forces that are in bed with the drug gangs. level of routine violence that you wouldn't want to experience. government that's plagued with corruption and yet their freedom of information law is no only rated higher but produces real results that in our system we couldn't get and a great example is there was a famous case of these 43 disappeared students. government trained it on the drug game and then they blame those guys and then the victims families went looking for more
evidence because the story didn't really fit. they brought in international experts. legal experts. some other folks. they said no something else is going on here. well a whole group of organizations with some help from us filed a case with the information tribunal in mexico. our law does not have that. they can overrule the agency. it doesn't have an international commission and can can overrule an agency. you know you have to release this because your argument is wrong and their argument is right. in mexico, tribunal overruled the federal attorney general and forced them to release the investigative file and showed them what the international critic said was right and federal police role. and all of those continued and
in mexico they got released through a stronger law. we wouldn't have been able to get that in this country. there's examples like that in india where there's a commission in every one of the states in india that regularly intervened and overrule so these missing pieces of the american freedom of information act i think are the next agenda for the 60th anniversary maybe where we really need it. right now we have a little mediating office that the congress just created back in 2007. they pick up the phone but they can't sit up there and bang the gavel and say you're being outrageous and make a deal. they can get on the policy. be good. be nice. sometimes that works and it prevents lit dpags and it's a useful thing but it has no
power. not power like the mexican or the chilean or indian commission we have to do that and we have to put more on that like mexico it's human rights and 43 students. that overrides the attorney general's protection because that's more important. we don't have any of that kind of balance in that system so even in a case like a torture case it took a change of policy in our administration. so i think if you can do those things and real tribunal role that could overrule bad decisions and have a real public interest. we move up. i think right now this is a page out of one of the international rankings from a canadian ngo. we're ranked number 45 out of
showing it around about their performance were just wrong. they did a bill in 2007 that set up that mediating office and tried to give it some power and forced agencies to tell the truth about their response then we have been able to show agencies weren't updating their regular crew lags even though president obama had a whole memo that we have a presumption of it and what got him more upset and didn't change their regulation whens they passed that bill in 2007 and more than half the regulations didn't mention this mediating office which is one of the things that they hoped to produce regulation and the senator from iowa in the house side some real champions and a
few bipartisan bills coming out of the government reform committee, the democratic in marijuana whi and it's a bill that will do some of the same things. and build it into the statute so that the courts could look at it. it's a step toward that public interest balancing test. set some deadlines, give this mediating office the power to report directly to congress which gives them independence from agencies and a sunset on a provision that's been abused by the agencies and we have to have a zone of confidential discussion to get anything done. cia claimsed that that extended 35, 40 or 50 years how will that chill today's discussion. the law doesn't put any deadline
on it. this bill got passed by the congress and president obama said he's going to sign it. the last day that he has to sign it, a little bit of poetry here this is yul 4th, 2016 and my bet is though -- i don't know. i don't know if the white house is going to want to have a signing ceremony either. because it's taken 8 years in effect for them to get into the law. something that the president promised them. >> the freedom of information act is one of the key ways in which citizens are able to find out what exactly is going on in government. and the good news is that over the course of my presidency we have processed more four year requests. freedom of information requests than ever before and we have worked to make it easier and more transparent putting more
and more stuff online and having said all that, we're actually getting many more requests than ever before and so we had to figure out ways that we can reform this to make it easier, faster, cheaper for people to get the information that they want. fortunately congress on a bipartisan basis has provided the tools through legislation and the reforms we already made and government is more responsive and i'm very proud of all the work we have done to make government more open and responsive and people satisfied with the people with which we're getting responses and requests with hope and an initiative for us to continue on the reform path. i'm going to sign that right now. >> my hope is that p